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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

AT this time, as there were the greatest persecutions excited in Asia, Polycarp ended his life by martyrdom. But I consider it all-important also to record his end in this history, as it is handed down in writings still extant. There is, however, an epistle of the church which he superintended, to the churches of Pontus, which shows what befel him, in the following words: “The church of God at Smyrna, to that of Philomelius, and to all parts of the holy universal church, every where, mercy, peace, and the love of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied. We have written to you, brethren, the circumstances respecting the martyrs, and the blessed Polycarp, who, as if sealing it with his martyrdom, has also put a stop to the persecution.” After these, before the account of Polycarp’s death, they give the account of the other martyrs, and show what firmness they evinced against the tortures they endured. “For,” say they, “those standing around, were struck with amazement, at seeing them lacerated with scourges, to their very blood and arteries, so that now the flesh concealed in the very inmost parts of the body, and the bowels themselves, were exposed to view. Then they were laid upon conch shells from the sea, and on sharp heads and points of spears on the ground, and after passing through every kind of punishment and torment, were at last thrown as food to wild beasts.” But they relate that Germanicus, a most noble youth, was particularly eminent as a martyr; who, strengthened by divine grace, overcame the natural dread of death implanted in us; although the proconsul was desirous of persuading him, and urged him from considerations of his youth, and entreated him, that as he was so very young and blooming he should take compassion on himself. He, however, hesitated not, but eagerly irritated the wild beast against him, all but forcing and stimulating him, that he might the sooner be freed from this unjust and lawless generation. On the glorious death of this one, the whole multitude, amazed at the courage of the pious martyr, and at the fortitude of the whole race of Christians, began to cry out, “Away with these wicked fellows, let Polycarp be sought.” A very great tumult arising in consequence of these outcries, a certain Phrygian, Quintus by name, who had recently come from Phrygia, seeing the beasts and the additional tortures threatened, was so overcome by fear and shaken in his resolution, that he finally desired to save his life. The contents of the aforesaid epistle, show that this man had frowardly rushed forward to the tribunal with others, and not in a modest, retiring manner; and yet, when seized, he gave a manifest proof to all, that it is not proper for those in this situation to brave danger by rushing blindly and rashly upon it. Thus far, however, respecting these: but the admirable Polycarp hearing these things, continued unmoved, preserving his firm and unshaken mind, and, at first, had determined to remain there in the city; but persuaded by the entreaties of those around him, and exhorting him to leave the city secretly, he went forth to a farm not far from it. There he staid with a few friends, night and day engaged in nothing but constant prayer to the Lord, and imploring peace for all the churches throughout the world; for this had always been his practice. In this situation, three days before he was seized, in a vision at night, and during prayer, the pillow under his head seemed to him suddenly to take fire, and thus to be consumed. On this, waking out of sleep, he immediately began to interpret the vision to those present, almost foretelling the event that was about to take place, and plainly declaring to those around him, that it would be necessary for him to give up his life in the flames for Christ’s sake. Those, however, that were in search of him, making every effort to discover him, he was again constrained by the affection and love of the brethren, to go away to another part of the country. Thither the pursuers came upon him, not long after, and caught two boys there, one of which they scourged in order to direct them to the retreat of Polycarp. Entering upon him at a late hour of the day, they found him, indeed, resting in an upper room, whence, although he might easily have escaped to another house, he would not, saying: “The Lord’s will be done;” and having understood also that they were come, as it is said, he descended and addressed the men with a very cheerful and mild countenance, so that those who did not know him before, thought they beheld a miracle, as they beheld the advanced age of the man, the gravity and firmness of his countenance; and were surprised that so much zeal should be exercised to seize a venerable old man like this. He, however, without hesitation, ordered a table to be immediately prepared for the men; then requested them to partake of food largely, and begged of them only one hour, that he might pray undisturbed. As they gave him permission, he arose and prayed, so full of the grace of the Lord, that those present who heard him were amazed, and many of them now repented, that so venerable and pious a man should be put to death. Beside these things, the above-mentioned epistle respecting him pursues the narrative as follows:

“After he had ended praying, and had in this remembered all that had ever been connected with him, small and great, noble and obscure, and the whole universal church throughout the world, when the hour came for him to go, they placed him upon an ass and conducted him to the city, it being a great Sabbath-day. He was met by Herod, who was the irenarch, and his father Nicetes; who, taking him into their vehicle, persuaded him to take a seat with them, and said, ‘For what harm is there in saying Lord Cæsar, and to sacrifice, and thus save your life?’ He, however, did not at first make any reply; but as they persevered, he said, ‘I shall not do what you advise me.’ Failing, therefore, to persuade him, they uttered dreadful language, and thrust him down from the car with great vehemence, so that as he descended from the car he sprained his thigh. But not at all moved from his purpose, as if nothing had happened, he eagerly went on, and was conducted to the stadium. But as there was so great an uproar in the place that not many could hear, a voice came from heaven to Polycarp as he entered the stadium: ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and contend manfully.’ No one saw who it was that spoke; but the voice itself was heard by many of our brethren. When he was led forward, however, a great tumult arose among those that heard Polycarp was taken. At length, as he advanced, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp, and he answering that he was—he persuaded him to renounce Christ, saying, ‘Have a regard for your age,’ and adding similar expressions, such as is usual for them to employ; he said, ‘Swear by the genius of Cæsar. Repent; say, Away with those that deny the gods.’ But Polycarp, with a countenance grave and serious, and contemplating the whole multitude that were collected in the stadium, beckoned with his hand to them, and with a sigh looked up to heaven, and said, ‘Away with the impious.’ As the governor, however, continued to urge him, and said, ‘Swear, and I will dismiss you. ‘Revile Christ!’ Polycarp replied; ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?’ The governor still continuing to urge him, and again saying, ‘Swear by the genius of Cæsar,’ Polycarp replied, ‘If you are so vain as to think that I should swear by the genius of Cæsar, as you say, pretending not to know who I am, hear my free confession. I am a Christian. But if you wish to learn what the doctrine of Christianity is, grant me a day and listen to me.’ The proconsul said, ‘Persuade the people.’ Polycarp replied, ‘I have thought proper to give you a reason; for we have been taught to give magistrates and powers appointed by God, the honour that is due to them, as far as it does not injure us; but I do not consider those the proper ones before whom I should deliver my defence.’ The proconsul said, ‘I have wild beasts at hand, I will cast you to these unless you change your mind.’ He answered, ‘Call them. For we have no reason to repent from the better to the worse, but it is good to change from wickedness to virtue.’ He again urged him: ‘I will cause you to be consumed by fire, should you despise the beasts, and not change your mind.’ Polycarp answered, ‘You threaten fire that burns for a moment, and is soon extinguished, for you know nothing of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment reserved for the wicked. But why do you delay? Bring what you wish.’ Making these, and many other similar declarations, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was brightened with grace; so that he not only continued undismayed at what was said to him, but on the contrary, the governor, astonished, sent the herald to proclaim in the middle of the stadium, ‘Polycarp confesses that he is a Christian.’ When this was declared by the herald, all the multitude, Gentiles and Jews dwelling at Smyrna, cried out, ‘This is that teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods; he that teaches multitudes not to sacrifice, not to worship. Saying this, they cried out, and asked Philip the Asiarch, to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But he replied, that he was not permitted, as he had already completed the exhibition of the chase in the amphitheatre. They all cried out together, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For it seemed necessary that the vision which he saw on his pillow should be fulfilled; when seeing it on fire whilst he prayed, he turned to those few faithful friends with him, and said prophetically, ‘I must be burnt alive.’ These things were executed, however, with such haste that they were no sooner said than done. The crowd, however, forthwith collected wood and straw from the shops and baths; and the Jews, as usual, most freely offered their services for this purpose. But when the pile was prepared, laying aside all his clothes, and loosing his girdle, he attempted also to take off his shoes, which he had not been in the habit of doing before, as he always had some one of the brethren, that were soon at his side, and rivalled each other in their services to him; for he had always been treated with great respect on account of his exemplary life, even before his gray hairs. Immediately he was surrounded by the instruments of death prepared for the funeral pyre. As they were on the point of securing him with spikes, he said, ‘Let me be thus. For he that gives me strength to bear the fire, will also give me power without being secured by you with these spikes, to remain unmoved on the pyre.’ They, therefore, did not nail him, but merely bound him to the stake. But he, closing his hands behind him, and bound to the stake as a noble victim selected from the great flock, an acceptable sacrifice to Almighty God, said: ‘Father of thy well-beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of thee, the God of angels and powers, and all creation, and of all the family of the righteous, that live before thee, I bless thee that thou hast thought me worthy of the present day and hour, to have a share in the number of the martyrs and in the cup of Christ, unto the resurrection of eternal life, both of the soul and body, in the incorruptible felicity of the Holy Spirit; among whom may I be received in thy sight, this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as thou the faithful and true God hast prepared, hast revealed and fulfilled. Wherefore, on this account, and for all things I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee, through the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ, thy well-beloved Son; through whom glory be to thee with him in the Holy Ghost, both now and for ever. Amen.’

“After he had repeated Amen, and had finished his prayer, the executioners kindled the fire. And when it arose in great flames, we saw a miracle, those of us who were privileged to see it, and who, therefore, were preserved to declare the facts to others. For the flames presented an appearance like an oven, as when the sail of a vessel is filled with the wind; and thus formed a wall around the body of the martyr. And he was in the midst not like burning flesh, but like gold and silver purified in the furnace. We also perceived a fragrant odour, like the fumes of incense, or some other precious aromatic drugs. At length the wicked persecutors, seeing that the body could not be consumed by fire, commanded the executioner to draw near to him and to plunge his sword into him, and when he had done this, such a quantity of blood gushed forth that the fire was extinguished; so that the whole multitude were astonished that such a difference should be made between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this one, bishop of the catholic church in Smyrna, was the most admirable, apostolical, and prophetical teacher of our times; for every word that he uttered, was either fulfilled or will yet be fulfilled. But that envious and malignant adversary, that wicked enemy of all the righteous, seeing the lustre of his martyrdom, his uniform walk and conversation, and now his crown of immortality, and his indisputable prize, had provided that not even his corpse could be obtained by us, though many of us eagerly wished it, so as to have communion with the sacred body. Some, therefore, secretly engaged Nicetas, the father of Herod and brother of Dalee, to go to the governor, so as not to give the body, lest, said they, abandoning him that was crucified, they should begin to worship Polycarp. And this they said on the suggestion and urging of the Jews, who were also watching and looking out whilst we were preparing to take him from the fire; not knowing, however, that we can never abandon Christ, who suffered for the salvation of all who are saved out of the whole world; nor ever worship any other. For him we worship as the Son of God; but the martyrs we deservedly love as the disciples and imitators of our Lord, on account of their exceeding love to their king and master, of whom may we only become true associates and fellow-disciples. The centurion then seeing the contention of the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and burnt it according to the custom of the Gentiles. Thus, at last, taking up his bones, more valuable than precious stones, and more tried than gold, we deposited them where it was proper they should be. There, also, as far as we can, the Lord will grant us to collect and celebrate the natal day of his martyrdom in joy and gladness, both in commemoration of those who finished their contest before, and to exercise and prepare those that shall hereafter.” Such is the account respecting the blessed Polycarp, who, together with the twelve from Philadelphia, was crowned a martyr; he, however, is chiefly remembered by all, insomuch that he is spoken of by the Gentiles in every place.

Of such an end, then, was the admirable and apostolic Polycarp deemed worthy, according to the account which the brethren in Smyrna recorded in the epistle that we have quoted. In this same epistle, respecting him, other martyrdoms are also recorded, which took place in the same city, and about the time of Polycarp’s death. Among these, also, was Metrodorus, a follower of Marcion’s error, but who appears to have been a presbyter, and who was committed to the flames. A very celebrated martyr of those times was Pionius. Those who feel inclined to be informed respecting him, we refer to that epistle that has been embodied in the work on the ancient martyrs collected by us, in which is given a very full account of his particular confessions, of the freedom with which he spoke, and of his defence of the faith before the people and rulers. Also his instructive exhortations; moreover his strong invitations to those that fell away under the temptation of persecution, the consolations which he presented to the brethren that came into him in prison, what excruciating tortures he also endured besides, when lie was secured with spikes, his firmness on the pile, and after all his extraordinary sufferings, his death. There are also, records extant of others that suffered martyrdom in Pergamus, a city of Asia. Of these we mention only Carpus and Papylus, and a woman named Agathonice; who, after many illustrious testimonies given by them, gloriously finished their course.

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